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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                    333

"My darling," he wrote in an illegible hand, barely
able to keep up with the thoughts that rushed through his
mind. "Today I shot down three Germans. But that's not
the main point. Some of my comrades are now doing
this nearly every day. I would not boast to you about
this. My darling, my beloved. Today I want, I have a
right, to tell you about what happened to me eighteen
months ago, and which—forgive me, please forgive me—
I have kept from you. But today, I have at last decid-
ed. ..."

Alexei became lost in thought. Mice squeaked behind
the planks with which the dugout was lined, and the drib-
bling of dry sand was heard. Together with the fresh
and humid scent of birch and flowering grass that was
wafted through the open doorway, came the slightly muf-
fled but unrestrained trilling of nightingales. Somewhere
in the distance, beyond the gully, probably outside the
officers' mess, male and female voices were singing the
mournful song about the ash-tree. Softened by the dis-
tance, the tune acquired a particularly tender charm at
night and filled the heart with sweet sadness, the sadness
of expectation, the sadness of hope.

And the remote and muffled rumble of gun-fire, now
almost inaudible at the airfield, which was already deep
in the rear of our advancing forces, drowned neither the
melody, nor the trilling of the nightingales, nor the soft,
dreamy rustling of the wood.